A 3D Printer That Uses Living Human Cells

September 27, 2015

Written By William Herkewitz Via Popularmechanics.com

As it wends the material into delicate hair-thin veins, this new 3D printer is doing two amazing things. First, unbound by the constraints of gravity, it is pumping a suspended 'painting' into a buoyant gel the consistency of hand-sanitizer. And second, the material you see being injected here is living, human cells. 

Today, a team of engineers and biomedical researchers led by Tapomoy Bhattacharjee and Thomas Angelini at the University of Florida has unveiled a radical new 3D printing technology. It's a machine that takes advantage of the curious properties of granular gels—seemingly sci-fi materials that act like they're stuck halfway between liquid and solid states. According to the paper they just published in the journal Science Advances, the researchers have already shown that the machine can paint in soft materials such as silicone and hydrogels—which otherwise flop flat and deform during the 3D printing process—with incredibly fine and elegant detail.

Over the past year, the team has used the machine to paint an unbounded number of shapes with seven different types of living cells, including primary cells grown from a patient, and various soft materials. For example, the scientists produced silicone jellyfish and suspended networks of veins written entirely out of living human aortic cells. Better still, their machine can print at a resolution of roughly 1 micron. That's 1 percent the width of a human hair. The scientists see their new 3D printer being used in building flexible electronics and even making an earnest foray into organ and tissue engineering. 

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